The World’s Tallest Mountain is in Hawaii

Guest Post: Ruth Elayne Kongaika

I know you are thinking that the world’s tallest mountain is Mt. Everest, and if you consider those that only originate on the land (above sea level), you would be right! But of those mountains rising from under the sea, Mauna Kea tops even Mt. Everest. The altitude of Mount Everest is 8,850 meters. Mauna Kea’s total height, from the sea floor, is over 10,000 meters. You can even ski during the winter months when it is covered in several feet of snow – in Hawaii!Mauna Kea rising from the sea, Hawaii

Recently, in August of 2012, we had snow on the top of Mauna Kea, while at the same time it was over 80 degrees in Honolulu. A few years back, we made an attempt to travel to the summit of this huge volcano. We traveled in a rental car up Saddle Road from Route 200. The grade was steep and at about 7,000 feet frost started to form on our windshield, and we became a little alarmed. We could barely see a few feet in front of us and could not look down very far because of the thick white clouds and fog.

Snow on Maunu Kea, HawaiiSigns along the road recommended that we use a four-wheel drive up the mountain, especially with a plan to reach the summit. It was very steep and the wind made it feel as though we may be swept off the side. Continuing on up the winding narrow road, we were lead to a Visitor Information Station at about 9,000 feet. We learned that the main reason for the station is so that we could adapt to the altitude slowly. Here we watched videos, took a bathroom break, and purchased some souvenirs. Afterwards we wound our way up the mountain a bit further, and were soon surrounded by clouds.

We were not lucky enough to have good weather conditions on the day we decided to go up to the summit, so we just stopped by the side of the road to watch the clouds before going back down.

We discovered that there are bus tours that can take you up Mauna Kea (weather permitting). They depart from Honokohau Harbor and spend the afternoon and evening before returning to the valley. Because the temperature changes quickly, you must take along sweaters, long pants and socks to keep warm. They serve dinner at a Sheep Ranch, which is part of the tour. Next time we will take the tour!

At around 11,000 feet up Mauna Kea, there is an adze quarry and then a permafrost lake at 12,000 feet. That altitude can make you feel giddy, and above the clouds, there are some exhilarating views. You must remember to breathe; otherwise you will feel faint and as light as a feather. Mountain sheep and rare native plants are also spotted.

Observatories on Mauna Kea, HawaiiBesides being the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea has the world’s largest astronomical observatory. There are over two dozen telescopes which gather information from the expanse. Above the mountain it is dry and the atmosphere stable, so the planets and stars can be studied in more detail than at other observatories. It is also above the tropical inversion cloud, so the air is pure and clear. It helps that it is far from city lights and is very dark.

The actual climb of Mauna Kea above sea level is nearly 14,000 feet, but the majority of it is underwater. This volcanic hot spot resulted in all of the Hawaiian Islands. Native Hawaiians regard Mauna Kea as sacred.

Ruth Elayne Kongaika was raised in the mainland, USA, but has been living in the South Pacific for the past forty years. She enjoys trying to capture the beauty of the Polynesian islands through her photography, painting and writing. She has a blog which shares some of her art and favorite subjects at:



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